As of Tuesday, Anderson County Emergency Medical Services had responded to more than 40 suspected COVID-19 calls since mid-March, Director Nathan Sweet said last week.
As of Tuesday, only one patient transported by Anderson County EMS had tested positive for COVID-19, Sweet said.
The suspected COVID-19 calls have come from across Anderson County: Oak Ridge, Norris, Clinton, Rocky Top, Marlow, Medford—”really just about anywhere in the county,” Sweet said.
The suspected COVID-19 calls are being screened by 911 emergency call centers in Anderson County, Clinton, and Oak Ridge to better prepare emergency responders before they arrive at the call site.
“If they meet any of the screening criteria, our crews are responding in appropriate personal protective equipment as a precaution for safety,” Sweet said.
Earlier this month, Sweet said the Anderson County EMS staff is using surgical face masks on every call, regardless of the potential to be exposed to COVID-19.
“This is to provide a higher level of safety for our staff, to better ensure continued EMS response to our community,” Sweet said.
Last week’s announcement by Tennessee Governor Bill Lee to not renew the statewide stay-at-home order past April 30 does not change the ambulance service’s preparations for responding to COVID-19, Sweet said.
“It is reasonable to anticipate that such an opening up of the economy can cause an increase of local COVID-19 cases, and we will continue to prepare for this outcome,” Sweet said. “We echo the recommendation, and plea from Governor Lee, that all Tennesseans continue to observe social distancing and proper hygiene such as washing of hands, and staying home when sick. Anderson County EMS anticipates dealing with COVID-19 for quite some time as we move forward, and would have the same posture even if the shelter-at-home order was renewed.”
Sweet said there have been reports from various ambulance services across the nation that there has been an increase in cardiac arrest calls even as overall call volume has dropped. This could be because people are concerned about going to the hospital or getting examined when they start to feel sick. But there has not been an increase in cardiac arrest cases in Anderson County, Sweet said.
“We urge the public to not delay getting medical care or treatment when they become ill,” Sweet said. “Contact your family doctor, use a local clinic, and in the case of an emergency, don’t wait to call 911!”
Sweet said there are more cases of COVID-19 outside of the hospitals than inside.
“Do not be scared of going to get checked,” he said. “Hospitals are experiencing lower patient volumes than normal, so going to the hospital for necessary care will not cause an increased burden on their ability to provide care. All of health care (doctor offices, clinics, hospitals, EMS, etc.) are taking greater precautions to ensure patients and providers are protected. A delay in getting care may lead to worse outcomes, including death, as others are starting to see. Take all of the necessary precautions and measures to protect yourself from COVID-19, but don’t delay care!”
Sweet said it is clear that fewer people are seeking medical care and treatment than before COVID-19. That’s based on the drop in call volume and the drop in the number of patients in the hospital.
“This is a cause for concern that we may begin to see more critical calls in the very near future,” Sweet said. Our staff will be prepared for such an occurrence, but hopefully it doesn’t happen.”
In mid-April, Sweet said there had been a 23 percent decrease in overall call volume as many people stayed home. There was a national report of motor vehicle crashes decreasing by 50 percent, Sweet said at the time.
Convalescent calls were also down as fewer people needed transportation because facilities had shut down and hospital use had dropped.
But Anderson County EMS expects increases as facilities are opened back up and when the COVID-19 threat decreases.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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